GW2: Plants vs. Dragons

sol1I’ve actually been making good progress catching up in Guild Wars 2’s season 2, although I’m still like four months behind the rest of the crowd.  As I’m saying, “Oh, this Silverwastes place is pretty cool!” the GW2 community looks at me with derision.  “No duh, scrub.”

Really, I just want it done so that it’s done and not because I’m so caught up in a story of plants and dragons.  To tell you the truth, if you were pointing a pistol at my head and asked me to regurgitate the narrative to this point, there would be a lot of stammering and fragmented sentences.  “Uh, so there’s this underground plant dragon that this one plant-girl woke up… and the plant started showing up everywhere… oh! plant wolves that are annoying to fight… and everyone gets together to agree that the plant dragon is bad… and the plants attack a big tree, which is kind of weird because, y’know, they’re both plants… and then Superman’s Fortress of Solitude reveals that there’s a dragon egg, which is important for some reason, but another crazy plant girl steals the egg… and Asura were kind of jerks to the plant people.”

I would be dead in seconds.  Alas for Syp.

That’s where I’m at.  Instead of tracking my progress by story, I’ve been mentally logging my journey by what obstacles I had to overcome that day.  It’s a close call between the thorny maze and the whole stealth mission as the most annoying I’ve played in this game.  I’m sure there will be a jumping puzzle before long.

sol2On the upside, it does seem as though there’s a bigger effort to produce an epic multi-part saga, and I have been taking screenshots like crazy as I visit all sorts of incredible set pieces.  But probably the most impressive was just hanging out at the war-torn Silverwastes, where it feels a little more dynamic than other spots in the game.  I was tasked to find clues around one fort, and while I was there it came under siege by computer enemies, who then blew open a hole in a wall.  As I and other players rushed to push back the bad guys, I felt myself nodding in respect for the game surprising me in a good way.

I do have to ask: Are all Sylvari evil?  It’s kind of personally hilarious to see how many of them are crazy, jerks, or deeply hated by the playerbase.  Maybe ArenaNet decided to make them the butt monkeys of Guild Wars 2, which is surprising considering that they’re the Elf stand-ins.

I’ve also been playing my Necro as a 100% minion master these days.  It might not be the most efficient (and I miss my wells), but it’s a sheer load of fun to see my army swarm all over bad guys and have them panic for a change.

I only have a few more missions to go to wrap up this storyline, at which point I’ll either be free to go dormant until Heart of Thorns’ release or to work on map exploration (but maybe that should wait until I can put that XP to masteries?).

Digesting the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement

babeSo no big surprise — Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is an expansion — but good news nonetheless.  As a mostly lapsed GW2 player right now, I’m mostly on the fringes of the excitement hurricane going on.  I mean, I’m terribly happy for those for whom GW2 is their only game and this is major.  But I’m evaluating the news from the perspective of a former regular player who is asking the question, “What is in here that is worth returning for?”

For the record, I think that there is enough here to prompt that renaissance (and perhaps get me to actually finish Season 2), but it isn’t all sunshine and deadly flowers.  Here are a few thoughts sorted from thumbs up, neutral, and thumbs down.

Thumbs Up

  • New Revenant class looks somewhat awesome, although with heavy armor, the only new class in the xpack, and summoning components, it will definitely be in danger of being overplayed and perhaps overpowered.
  • Guild Halls.  That will certainly be a welcome feature to get together with guildies for fun and mutual projects.  It also addresses a huge oversight going from GW1 to GW2.
  • Profession specializations.  I think this alone has me the most excited, especially for people who want to stick with their class but also desire additional progression or variety.  Not entirely sure if each class will have just one specialization or more than one from which to choose.  In any case, it’d be cool to see my Engineer or Necro change it up somewhat.
  • More open world zones to explore.  The world should be constantly expanding, as Tyria is such a huge place and we’ve been confined to a relatively small portion of it in GW2 so far.
  • Hang gliding.  I’m down with this.  The mastery system does sound intriguing as a way to gain new abilities, although it sounds as though these abilities will be used to overcome new obstacles.  So it’s a zero sum system?  Maybe I’m misunderstanding it.

Neutral

  • Guild Wars 2 has failed to blow up my skirt with its story, either from the base game or the first two seasons.  No reason to expect that the expansion will actually get interesting, but I’m always willing to be proven wrong!
  • It’s not free.  That’s fair, but I know some people were hoping that Anet would be pumping out a free expansion for whatever reason.
  • No mounts.  I do NOT get why this is one of those weird design decisions that Anet has decided to die on a hill for.  Not having them in this world is bizarre, and including them would make a lot of people happy.  It should’ve happened.  So, you have high-tech airships and add hang gliders… but no horses?
  • More ways to get precursor weapons via questing.  I’ve long since given up on chasing the legendary weapon pony, so this is a non-feature for me, but it’s not a bad thing for those who care about it.
  • More PvP and WvW stuff.  Totally outside of my sphere of interest, and therefore completely neutral additions.
  • ArenaNet was hyping this announcement as something more than an expansion, as something that would go beyond the living story and be… I dunno, revolutionary?  I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but that was the general angle.  And the reveal, while nice, is merely an expansion — nothing more and nothing less.
  • My biggest wish list item — being able to get to 100% world exploration by not having to go into WvW — wasn’t addressed anywhere that I saw.  Shame, especially with new zones.

Thumbs Down

  • No new races.  This was a surprising disappointment, especially considering just how many potential races there are in the game and how much time has been spent between the community and the devs on it.
  • Guilds get housing, but players are still saddled with these pathetic home instances that have zero customization?  I’m happy for guilds and all, but if I had my druthers, I would have prioritized player housing (plus, what if a player doesn’t want to be in a guild?).
  • More jungle zones.  Not… my favorite biome, as they’re usually confusing to navigate and busy on the eyes.  Only slightly above lava and desert zones in my opinion.  Also, at least one of these zones is “more vertical” than normal, which means lots more annoying GW2 platforming.

Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know and I’m sure Anet is holding back so it has something to talk about in the coming months.  But as it stands, I’m interested if not overwhelmed.

Guild Wars 2’s wall of corpses strategy

corpsesWith word that an expansion (Heart of Thorns) is most likely on the way, there’s been some extra incentive out there to pull me back into Guild Wars 2 and see if I can overcome my living world boredom to knock out the rest of season 2.  My Necro just got into Silverwastes and spent a mission fighting plant-wolves (one theme with this game is that minions have to mimic their elder dragon boss, so plant dragon equals plant critters, and undead dragon equals undead sharks and the like).

The mission seemed out to shove my face into the ground as often as possible, as I would die about three seconds into any given fight (although, yes, I understood that using mines to blow up the packs were a better solution when available).  But it made me think a lot about the combat in GW2 and how I’ve previously defended it by saying that it was a good mix of old-school hotbar action (complete with auto-attacks) and this action combat trend that’s plaguing titles like WildStar and The Secret World.

I’m no longer sure if this is the best marriage between the systems, although it may be the only serious attempt that I’ve seen to straddle the line.  A lot of it comes down to the feel — when combat feels great in GW2, like when I’m swinging a gigantic broadsword with meaty thunks, it can be a hoot.  When it feels as though I’m taking teeny eeny bits of health away from an enemy while the bad guy eats my life away in gigantic chunks, it’s more frustrating than not.

I initially praised the downed system as a neat way to give players a chance at a comeback in a fight, although now I see that system as absolutely necessary due to how fragile characters can be.  As with Guild Wars 1, character health in Guild Wars 2 isn’t some long line that is chipped away at, but rather a limited resource that’s always dipping up and down dramatically.  Even more dramatically when you play a squishy light armor class, I’ll grant.

I very much like how the auto-attack is a serious and somewhat rapid (depending on the weapon) skill instead of a once-in-a-while filler between special attacks.  The animations and weapon designs are mostly spot-on, with different races even boasting their own moves (which is a nice touch).  And with the hotbar set up as it is, there’s just enough skills to make a fight varied without overcluttering.

On the flip side — and speaking of cluttered — is how a battlefield can get downright ugly and impossible with dozens of overlapping red circles (the poop you’re not supposed to stand in) and other various negative effects.  I’ve been in too many fights where there’s just nowhere to dodge because everywhere is bad and the circles hit you for so dang hard.

And I don’t know about you, but ArenaNet’s much-vaunted cross-class skill combos are hardly ever seen (or at least noticed) in group fights.  That was a good idea that had a faulty transition to the live game because it’s quite difficult to visually understand what’s going on and be able to coordinate between two or more characters to pull off a combo attack.  There’s just too much in the way of screen clutter.

For story missions, more often than not I keep throwing my corpses at the bad guys, because I have unlimited lives and resurrections and they do not.  It reminds me of a scene from The Gamers: Dorkness Rising when the Bard realizes that he can keep coming back to life, and thus builds up a wall of his own corpses to beat the enemy.

Is this the way that GW2 intended me to fight these epic battles, with a wall of corpses strategy?  I would hope not, because in reality it comes off as cheap and… well, silly.  Oh, I’ll do it because it gets the win sooner or later, but I don’t feel victorious at the end.  I don’t feel as though I attained any sort of combat mastery.  I’ve just worn them down through the attrition granted to me by immortality.

So just like how GW2 attempts to sit on the fence between the two big styles of MMO combat, so I’m on the fence after a couple of years of playing as to whether I like it or not.  #wishywashy

GW2: Looking ahead to the new year

faceWith 2015 looming, I’m starting to really think about what I want to play and accomplish in the new year.  One item that’s been on my backburner is an eventual return to Guild Wars 2.  Even at level 80 with full exotics and whatnot, my Necro has so much to do in the game, including a lot more world map completion, the remainder of her personal story, several chapters of the living story, and perhaps the upcoming Wintersday holiday event.

But the hook that got me to log back in last night and start seriously considering adding GW2 back into my play rotation was the slightly surprising news that the team is revamping the daily achievement system.  Again.  It’s actually a bit of a mixed bag — they’re taking away a lot of achievement points that you can get with dailies, and we don’t really know how all of this will play out.  But I do like the idea of focused dailies with varying difficulty levels, as well as daily login rewards.

Guild Wars 2 really is the perfect small-session MMO, and I think I needed to get out of the trap of feeling that I only had to do living story stuff when I logged in.  Big elf tree, I do not really care whether the salad dragon will be eating you or not.  My character may be forced to say so because there’s so little dialogue choice in this game, but rest assured, you could be gnoshed to the ground and my happiness would dim not one whit.

But I’ve missed simply romping through fields and fleshing out a map.  There’s something viscerally satisfying to launch my dual-dagger Necro into a pack of bad guys and have her stab and poison and pet her way to victory.

It’s also nice to know that the stories will be there for whenever I want to do them.  Yes, it would be nice to get caught up so that I could be doing whatever the crowd is — and with the crowd’s help.  But it’s not that pressing.

So what are my Guild Wars 2 wishes for 2015?  Simple: player housing and an actual expansion that includes additional normal world zones to explore.  Darn it, I want to indulge my nesting instinct in this game!

Guild Wars 2 living world soundtrack on its way!

With this week’s new chapter in season two of Guild Wars 2’s living world comes a new batch of original music.  ArenaNet has been fantastic in continuing to expand the game’s soundtrack far above and beyond Jeremy Soule’s efforts, and the good news is that Maclaine Diemer told me via twitter that a full living world OST release is on its way:

“The plan is to make one available when Season 2 is complete so it can all be bundled together.”

I’m not sure if this will be a free download or a paid album, but either way, awesome.  In the meantime, check out the five new episode 5 tracks on SoundCloud.

How to make Guild Wars 2 more “sticky”

stickyBack when Guild Wars 2 was behind closed doors and ArenaNet was only letting little peeks into what this game would be, I remember taking these snippets and letting my imagination romp all around the possibilities of the sequel.  A mini-game in a city was mentioned, and I wondered what it would be like to have an entire world full of such encounters.  The personal neighborhood was teased (but not detailed) and I was excited about the notion of dressing up an entire town.

What I think my mind likes to do during the nebulous, information-scarce pre-launch times is to speculate on all of the ways that an upcoming MMO might stick with me and I with it.  I don’t see it as being naive, but hopeful.  I want games to be good enough so that I’m enjoying them just as much on day 600 as I am on day 1, and a lot of that has to do with how “sticky” the world is.  In other words, how attached and involved I get with the game and its systems.

Today, over two years after Guild Wars 2’s release, I have to say that while I love and admire the game for various reasons, it is not sticky — at least, to me.  While there are no financial barriers to be overcome now that I purchased it nor excessive demands on my time (as most everything can be done in little bite-sized sessions if wished), I can and have floated away from the game without feeling a compulsion from it to return.  I probably will one day.  But I’m not feeling any sense of loss that would go with some other titles I’ve played and left in the past.

So how could Guild Wars 2 conceivably become more sticky for me?  Four key areas come to mind:

1. We need real personal housing, and we need it now.

The instanced neighborhoods are as much of a joke as Trahearne.  Not only did they not change as much as we were led to believe based on the pre-launch talks of the personal story, but they’re pretty much useless.   Oh, you have a candy corn node in there that you can mine once a day.  That right there makes life worth living.

It’s so baffling to me that ArenaNet decided to eschew personal housing and even now, two years later, has yet to move on this.  This is a company that had terrific and useful guild halls in the first game.  Dudes and dudettes, your 2005-era game shouldn’t be eclipsing you here.  Star Wars: The Old Republic shouldn’t have beaten you to the punch on this.  Especially for a studio that does customization in other areas (in particular wardrobe) so well.

Give us homes.  Real homes that we can use, decorate, throw parties in, and make our own.  Give us space in Tyria that is truly ours to design and tailor so that we have the game’s perimission to plant roots.  And, oh yeah, give guilds homes too.

2. Allow players to design and run events.

I’m still not sold on the living story as either engaging content or decent storytelling.  If it was a novel, I would have already tossed it aside in favor for something less bland.  So while my confidence isn’t the highest in ArenaNet’s writers to pull us out of a narrative dive, I would have more hope that there would be one or two players out there who could do better.

Remember those zone events that used to be the big selling point for the game and are now just getting in the way of running to the next heart?  Those were not bad ideas.  I think ArenaNet needs to double-down on “dynamic” events, not by making more and increasing the rotations, but by inviting the community to assist and giving them the tools to do so.  Don’t make it free-for-all, but invite people and guilds to apply to be event creators.  Work with them or give them what they need to make a three- or four-event chain that could tell a fun story across a zone.  Have a dev team review it to make sure it’s in line with the lore of the game or whatever, but then release it with as much honor and fanfare as any other patch.  That could be potentially awesome.

3. Examine to other MMOs to see what fires up the playerbase and then shamelessly copy those ideas.

There are so many good ideas in other MMOs, past and present, that have gotten players really excited and worked well.  Players still yammer on about how much they love the music system in LOTRO — copy that.  Or allow us to have a Mists of Pandaria-style farm.  Or consider allowing us to gain minions (dare I say, heroes?) to help us and go on missions for us.  Or invest in a player-generated mission system.  Or give roleplayers better tools with which to do their thing in the world.  Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have to always be a unique rogue; it can be a shrewd thief instead.

4. Honor guilds with better support and systems.

Guilds are an essential part of the social backbone of any MMO, and yet I feel that they are still not supported as they should be in GW2.  I’m not just talking about a lack of guild halls (althought that’s part), but more robust tools for the officers.  An in-game guild finder.  A guild calendar.  Guild projects that could involve everyone pitching in together instead of grinding out legendaries separately.

And here’s something that would stick me to the game more — a way to chat with my guild outside of the game through an official app.  It’s 2014, people.  We have the technology and know-how.  Even if I’m not in the game or currently playing it, having constant contact with my guild would increase the chances of me returning.